Per Gunnar Anderson (Emil Axelson) of Proton Motorsports snatched a slim 3.3-second lead at the top as the Rally of New Caledonia, the second round of the 2012 Asia Pacific Rally Championship, got underway here on Friday.

Immediately trailing him at the end of the opening day's four stages was Team MRF's Chris Atkinson (Stephane Prevot), while another MRF driver Gaurav Gill (Glenn Macneall) finished a substantial way behind in third after his Skoda Fabia S2000 suffered a puncture. “It was just bad luck,” Gill said afterwards. “I know the gap is a lot and winning is a long shot from here but you never know what can happen. It's a long rally and I have to keep trying.”

Like Gill, misfortune also befell Proton's Alister McRae, whose hopes of victory ended after he was forced to retire with a puncture and a collapsed suspension on the day's second stage.

Anderson, meanwhile, had no such issues, racking up the fastest times on the rally's opening two stages — at Gadji in the island's north. The Swede was quick but Atkinson — who won the event here last year with Proton — managed to stay in sight of him.

Pulling things back

Gill, who lost over a minute here with his troubles, pulled things back to some extent later in the day. The Indian finished in first on the two ‘super special' stages at the Henri Milliard Municipal Horse Track (the ‘Hippodrome'), where no driver was sure of what to expect from the grassy surface.

“I didn't try to do anything different,” he said of his efforts. “I just drove sensibly.” He is, however, still left with a lot of catching-up to do.

If the first day was short at a little over 41km, the odometers will clock close to 130 on the second, when the action will shift to the mines in the island's south. There has been rain in the area, something all drivers admitted they were wary of.

Provisional standings (after four stages, top 5): 1. P.G. Anderson (Proton Motorsports) 26:52.9s, 2. Chris Atkinson (Team MRF) 26:56.2, 3. Gaurav Gill (Team MRF) 28:01.1, 4. Jean Louis Leyraud 29:40.6 (Pacific Cup) and 5. Brian Green 29:51.4 (Pacific Cup).

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